Telcom 'Talkeasy' TE-150
Feature review, Telcom 'Talkeasy' TE-150 twinpack.
The Telcom TE-150 is being sold in a twin-pack for about 30 UKP by the Currys chain in the UK. It is this 'package' which is under review here.
Even by current standards the TE-150 is quite a small set, and the aerial folds down when not in use to give the unit an even more compact profile, although it would be better from that point of view if it folded into a recess in the body of the radio instead of dangling awkwardly down alongside the back of the set. The aerial and the belt clip in particular give the set an unavoidably ticky-tacky cheap toy-like feel as the aerial is very lightly attached and sprung and the belt clip is designed to swing out of the way so the battery cover can be opened - unfortunately, it swings out of the way much too easily despite having a nominal lift-to-turn arrangement which should keep it in place during normal use. After one of my TE-150s fell off my belt twice in the space of five minutes - fortunately on to grass - I ceased using the belt clip.
The styling owes a great deal to current 'mobile phone chic', complete with removable front corner panels so you can choose their colour from several different supplied sets. I suppose there's a tiny possibility that it might be useful to have several groups of radios locked on different channels identifiable by colour at a big event, but the main intention is probably just that you can 'personalise' your radio. The colour of the main body is the by now ubiquitous fake silver.
What you do get:
Supplied with batteries for both sets.
Supplied with external earpiece/microphone for both sets.
Supplied with colour changing panels.
CTCSS, which can be turned off (although not quickly).
Squelch defeat, which is rather awkward to get at.
Scans for transmissions using a particular CTCSS tone.
Scans for transmissions regardless of CTCSS tone.
**Identifies received CTCSS tone when scanning**
Squelch setting is externally user variable (unusual).
VOX (Voice operated transmission), variable sensitivity.
A selection of call tones.
Supplied with lanyards (wrist loops) for carrying.
Roger beep (which doesn't turn off).
Battery status indicator.
Special bonus for radio amateurs only (more later).
What you don't get:
Unlike most 446 sets these radios do not use a custom LCD with predefined icons for such things as TX, BUSY and so on. The display is a relatively coarse general purpose dot-matrix LCD and the graphics, numerals and so on are generated on the screen at need, which does make the display look a bit crude and unrefined but on the other hand makes it more flexible.
In keeping with the feeling that the radio drives better than it looks and feels, the menu system is mostly well designed and the most used features are placed so that they are the least number of steps away from the initial entry into the menu. Menu choices are:
CH - Channel selection.
CODE - CTCSS tone selection, including 00 = no CTCSS
SCAN - Choice of scan up or scan down.
VOX which by the way defaults to on - make sure you turn it off when you first run up your sets. Four sensitivity levels.
TONE not to be confused with CTCSS code/tone, this offers a choice from 10 rather cheesy call 'tunes'.
SQ Setting of the squelch sensitivity 1-4.
MON Toggling of the squelch defeat on/off - this is just about the only thing badly implemented on this set - you have to go into the menu to defeat the squelch, and back in again to undefeat it, instead of having the more usual and sensible defeat-while-pressed button specifically for that purpose.
The menu system and parameters are completely intuitive and the advantage of the dot matrix display is that it can freely display any mix of words and numerals so the menu titles are mostly in plain language. That makes a huge difference compared to radios like the Binatone RA100 and the Motorola T6222 which have symbol-prompted menus where the meaning of each symbol is not always obvious.
The CALL button is incorporated into the side mounted PTT button - pressing the lower half gives you PTT, pressing the upper half invokes a fairly long call tone. It's far too easy to press the CALL part by mistake and it should have been on a completely separate button.
Apart from the general build quality and appearance, the flimsy flippy aerial and the unreliable belt clip, I can't really find too much to complain about. The light construction more or less discounts any possibility of use by young or clumsy users, but for the careful adult user primarily interested in SWLing on PMR446, this little set is amazingly good value for money for two reasons.
The first is that as well as channel scan, the set also has CTCSS tone ident. If the set stops on a signal while scanning with CTCSS set to 00 (no tone) it then launches into CTCSS ident mode and if there is a tone present on the signal being received, it normally identifies the tone in well under half a second. This is good for building up a picture of how many individual groups are using a particular channel, and essential information if you want to try to talk to any of them.
The second SWL-friendly feature is the variable squelch which can be set to one of four levels - although it can't be varied all the way from 'deaf to defeat' in the way that an analogue squelch control would, this is still a major plus point that the radio deserves credit for, as most PMR sets force us to make do with whatever the manufacturer sets the internal squelch to unless we delve inside to alter the setting ourselves. Even the leisure high-end Motorola T6222 does not have this very useful feature.
Add to this the fact that the pack comes complete with batteries and mic/earpiece sets for both radios and it's impossible to argue that this pack does not represent excellent value for money. If you don't require physical resilience, don't need splashproof housings and you aren't bothered about what your radios look like but you do want advanced listener features like CTCSS ident, then these are definitely the budget radios to go for.
I took mine on a ten mile walk through the countryside of East Sussex, scanning all the way, and came away with the impression that the receivers were quite lively and sensitive. Although they are physically by no means the best sets available, they still represent such good value for money that they achieve a very good rating overall.
The Roger beep can be killed via a hardware mod although it also kills the call tones, which is not exactly a great loss. The actual bleep tone is just your classic short single tone bleep and as such, not seriously annoying.
These sets are actually designed to serve several PMR-style systems, of which only one is PMR446. As such, they can be reconfigured (first internally and then via newly enabled menus) to work on any of the other bands they were designed to work on. The most useful of these is the band known as LPD (Low Power Device) which (for reasons only understood by the world radio authorities) was allocated a number of simplex frequencies within the worldwide 70cms amateur radio band in some countries.
In countries where LPD is legal, the allowed output power is only 10mW, however, these sets can be configured to work on LPD and (apparently) also to use the full PMR446 output of half a watt although I have not tried this myself. If true, it makes them of great potential interest to licensed radio amateurs who can legally use them when configured in that way. It must be stressed that LPD equipment was not devised with amateur radio operation in mind so the radio does not offer TX/RX shift when in LPD mode, just a substantial number of simplex frequencies in the 70cms band - but still, a compact, almost disposable half-watt 70cms transceiver for 15 pounds is something that most amateurs will jump at.
A description of the above mods is beyond the scope of this review, but a search on PMR446 fan sites like this one (try the forum for example - ed) will lead to the relevant articles.
Added: Wednesday, May 14, 2003